Five Ways to Make Your Written Content Suck

I’ve had an epiphany. Content marketers don’t really care if they create excellent written content. That’s the only explanation I can think of. Despite the mountains of classes, webinars, books, and “FIVE TIPPY-TOP MOSTEST IMPORTANT CONTENT MARKETING SECRETS IN ALL THE WORLD!!” blog posts, content marketers aren’t listening.

They seem to think, “Oh, that doesn’t apply to me. Not old Stevie*. I can keep pumping out dreck, because my stuff is different/better/important, and my readers are big fans/generously forgiving/mindless drones.” And they double down on their bad content like a politician after a racist campaign gaffe.

Maybe they actually want to be bad. Maybe that’s their goal: to produce something so execrably bad that you can’t help but read or watch it — the Sharknado of content marketing.

If that’s your goal, here are the five best ways you can make your content marketing suck out loud.

1. Use lots of jargon.

Gill's Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

Gill’s Dictionary of the Chinook Jargon

Use words that sort of sound like English, but not entirely. Use words that end in -ize whenever possible. And turn verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs.

“We’re going to incentivize learners to dialogue with their classroom practitioners as a way to optimize learning methodologies.”

If you use words your readers can easily recognize and understand, you’re not trying hard enough.

2. Use adverbs and adjectives.

Because no one believes what you have to say, unless it’s really super amazing and awesome.

“Our bleeding-edge new Mapplethorpe app isn’t like the other 900 photo filter apps. It lets you take some of the bestest, most breathtaking, wondrous, aneurysm-inducing photos you’ve ever taken. Until we release version 1.5.”

This is especially useful if you’re writing a press release, because it tells the journalists your product isn’t like all those other products in all those other press releases. You mean it! You have real news!

Combine these previous two tips to crank your content’s Suck knob up to 11.

3. Publish your first draft.

Writers — real writers, that is — are never quite happy with their work. They’re always wasting time, rewriting and improving their work, trying to squeeze blood and tears out of every word.

Which means you shouldn’t waste your time doing that.

Just splooge out whatever pops into that fancy brain of yours, hit Publish, and bada-bing, bada-boom! Blog post!

This is especially useful for those content marketers who try to publish something every day. Your practice of writing all five blog posts in 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon has been working perfectly for you. Keep up the good work.

4. Why use one word when five will do?

Journalists, especially newspaper reporters spend many long years honing their craft, learning to cut a lot of needless words from their written work trim the fat. So wWhy should you let all those extra words go to waste? They’re just lying around on the ground, waiting for someone just like you to pick them up and use them in their own work. Why can’t that someone it be you?

See all the mistakes I made there, all those fat juicy words I struck out? My sentences are usually spartan and simple, but this one was a ready-to-burst tick, until I ruined it.

One of the best ways to make your written content suck is to create a lot of it. Fill your articles with extra words. This way, you can write less, but their bloatedness adds to your weekly word count, and that’s all that really matters.

People are going to quit reading your stuff anyway, so why not make your message harder to find? Maybe they’ll stick around and search for it. It’ll be like a treasure hunt.

5. Why use one syllable when three will do?

Not only is it incumbent upon you, esteemed content marketer, to utilize an increased number of words, it’s imperative you leverage the greatest number of multi-syllabic words as possible.

Because if there’s one thing people love to do, it’s slog through a Master’s thesis answer to a simple question. If they ask you what time it is, explain how to build a watch. In German.

So retrieve your thesaurus and make extensive preparations to dazzle your readership with your encyclopedic knowledge concerning your lucrative speciality. I’m positive they will express their warmest gratitude to you.

* I’m not actually picking on content marketers named Stevie. I just needed a name to put in there. So if you’re named Stevie (or Steve), don’t worry, I’m not calling you out.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

5 Secrets Writers Can Learn from Actors

One thing I love about being a creative professional is the kinship with my fellow creatives. We understand the life — the instability, the random free time, and the unreliable flow of money — and we share a knowing-yet-slightly-sad smile when we meet. We get each other.

I had a chance this past April to talk with actor David Schmittou when he was in Indianapolis, playing “The Man in the Chair” in Beef & Board Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone (you can read my review of it here).

I wasn’t sure what I wanted when we sat down. I just wanted to see what I could learn from someone who got to be “someone else” professionally. Actors get to lie about who they are; writers lie about everything else.

So David and I sat outside at Paradise Café for nearly two hours, talking about the creative life. He told me about acting, what it’s like to be a working actor, and many of the different roles he’s played. He told me lessons he’s learned from working with people or taking classes from some of the biggest names in the industry.

That got me to thinking about how the keys to good acting are similar to the keys to good writing. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, short stories or content marketing, good writers can learn from good actors.

I didn’t write anything down. I didn’t want to disrupt his flow. As if I moved, it would startle him, and he would realize what he was doing and stop. So I made sure to remember the important points, and wrote them down in the car.

These are a few of the ideas I got from two brilliant hours with David Schmittou.

1. Create and absorb as many tiny details as possible.

David Schmittou in Beef & Boards' production of "The Drowsy Chaperone"

David Schmittou in Beef & Boards’ production of “The Drowsy Chaperone”

When you’re acting, these details will inform the way the character reacts in certain situations. It might even be a very tiny thing, like setting the needle on a record on stage in just the right place, even though no one is going to hear it, because that’s what we do in real life. Or making sure you put on side 1 in Act 1, and side 2 in Act 2. No one will see this, no one will know, but you will absorb it into your role, and it can have a powerful effect on your performance.

For Hemingway, details were crucial, even if you omitted most of them. That’s what he called The Iceberg Theory (the 1/8 of an iceberg that we see is supported by the 7/8 we don’t). If a writer knows a lot about a subject, he or she can leave certain things out, and the reader would still feel their presence. But if a writer doesn’t know a lot about a topic, and leaves certain things out, there’s a hollowness to the work.

An actor who only recites lines and offers up the barest of tiny details in their actions is wooden and not very memorable. A writer who does it is plain and uninteresting.

2. Live in the world of the play.

Don’t think of yourself as an actor on a stage, David said, be in that world. Absorb the character and imagine you’re him or her. Don’t think about after the show, don’t think about the argument you had with the director. Be present in that world, not this one. For David in The Drowsy Chaperone, he was in New York City, in his apartment, listening to his favorite record of his favorite musical, chasing away the blues.

For writers, especially fiction writers, this means being more than a story teller looking at their story as if they’re watching television. It means being in the world, notebook in hand, chronicling what you see, dodging bullets, storming the castle, and shooting at spaceships.

If you can immerse yourself in the world, you see more details, the experience becomes fuller, and you’re able to deliver a better performance/product to your audience.

3. Create a back story for your character.

Write scenes and short stories about characters. In his mind, David created a whole back story for the Man in the Chair, what he did for work, why he was single (“Since this was the 1970s, he had been married, but was unhappy, because he didn’t know what it meant to be gay,” David told me.)

Oftentimes, characters don’t come with back stories. They don’t have relationships spelled out. Did the Man in the Chair have friends? Why isn’t he with them? Does he get along with his mother? What kind of job does he have? Actors have to answer those questions themselves.

Writers, especially TV writers, will write create a “show bible,” which spells out character back stories, small details, likes and dislikes, and anything that might become important later on. They’ll write out scenes between characters that will never see the light of day, just to know how they would act and react.

If you can know why your characters are made the way they are, who influenced them, and why they like or don’t like other people, this becomes one of those very important iceberg details that shape your writing.

4. Base characters on yourself and other people.

David’s portrayal of the Man in the Chair was based on people he knew, and not past performances. He never even saw the play until he had already done the role once or twice. But he based the mannerisms and the back story on people in his life.

When Hemingway created characters for his stories, he modeled them after people he actually knew. He just changed their names. By using real people, he already had the back story written, he knew the tiny details, and he could more easily inhabit their world.

In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway said:

Goddamn it you took liberties with peoples’ pasts and futures that produced not people but damned marvellously faked case histories. . . You could write a fine book about Gerald and Sara for instance if you knew enough about them and they would not have any feeling, except passing, if it were true.

In essence, don’t make up people, because the characters will be fake. Instead, write about real people and make minor changes.

By using real people, you can create real characters who are emotionally rich and deep, not shallow caricatures or archetypes.

5. Listen carefully and react to the other actors.

Actors need to listen to their fellow actors on stage. Whether it’s traditional theatre or improv, listening is a crucial skill. You never know when an actor is going to make a mistake, say the wrong thing, or even change their mood or inflection of their next line. Actors have to be able to react to what was just said, not automatically say what they were going to say.

Sometimes fiction writers will “let the characters take over.” They let their characters act and react to what’s happening on the page. I’ve written stories where I have a basic idea of what should happen, only to have the two characters take the story in a completely different direction.

What’s really happening is the writers imagine how their characters would react in certain situations, and write that down instead. Rather than forcing actions and conversations to reach a certain end, the writer just holds on and goes along for the ride. This can only happen when writers live in the world of their story, create a back story for their characters, and base them on real people they know.

In the nonfiction world, sometimes “you” are the person you should listen to. Imagine yourself delivering your article as a speech, and write what you would say. Build on knowledge, feeding one idea into the next. If you can’t do step 2 without doing step 1 first, put the steps in the right order. This isn’t a mystery to be solved or a secret to be revealed. Listen to the way you would teach this knowledge, and write that.

When you get a chance to meet someone whose work inspires you, take it. When you get a chance to talk about the creative process with other creative people, take it. With a little lateral thinking, you never know what you might learn.

Three Questions Marketing Agencies Should Ask (and One They Shouldn’t) When Hiring Writers

Hiring writers at marketing agencies can be a crapshoot if you’re not careful. There’s really no one path that makes someone suitable to be a writer. But too many times, agencies think they need someone who fits a specific mold.

When they find the mold-fitting writer, they find he or she just wasn’t quite what they were looking for. The problem is, a candidate may look good on paper, but when you get down to it, they’re not even close to being an acceptable fit.

Maybe they studied English grammar, but they suck at story telling. Maybe they’re a brilliant creative writer, but they know absolutely nothing about business. Or maybe they’re a trained journalist, but they specialize in news writing, which isn’t just dry, it’s Sahara arid.

And maybe the best available writer was turned away because they didn’t have the “correct” qualifications.

If you want to find the best possible writer for your marketing agency, here are three questions you should ask every candidate, and one you shouldn’t.

1. When did you first call yourself a writer?
Search engine friendly content factory notebook and macbookThis is a tricky question, because a real writer has struggled with this question for years. (It’s how you can tell the real writers from the poseurs.) And you have to ask it in this way — “when did you first call yourself a writer?” — because real writers have a story about their answer.

We’re not quite sure when we “have permission” to call ourselves writers. For some, it’s when they publish their first book; for others, it’s the first time they sold a story or article. But the point is there’s a journey and a realization that goes along with finally calling ourselves a writer. And if someone has that story, they’re a real writer.

People who call themselves a writer without giving it any thought don’t give writing any thought either.

Don’t worry if a candidate still struggles with calling themselves a writer. That’s a good sign, because it means they take their craft so seriously, and they want to do such a good job, they won’t just slap that label on themselves without proving themselves first.

(In my own business, when I hire freelance writers, this is the only question I really pay attention to. It’s a strategy that has served me well for six years.)

2. What do you do for personal enjoyment?
Regardless of whatever else they say, one of the things they list must be “reading.” If they don’t read for fun, they’re not serious about writing. Every good writer I know does two things: 1) they write every day, and 2) they read every day for fun. It’s a form of practice.

High-performance athletes often use visualization as a form of practice. They imagine certain plays, techniques, or moves, or they watch game film. To sports psychologists, visualization is a form of practice that’s almost as effective as the actual physical practice.

When writers read, it’s like Peyton Manning watching hours and hours of game film: we’re still practicing, we’re still learning, we’re still honing our craft. We’re not just putting words into our brain, we’re absorbing styles, techniques, and new ideas.

3. What kinds of things did you write in college/What kinds of things do you write outside of work?
You want your candidates to have extra writing experience, and not just in the classroom or for work. A recent grad may have worked on the school newspaper, literary magazine, or school comedy troupe. A veteran writer may have a regular column in a sport fishing magazine. But they need to have something else in their portfolio.

Even if they regularly submit work to literary magazines that gets rejected, that’s fine. You just want to know they believe enough in their craft that they put themselves out there with it. You want the person who loves writing so much, they do it as a hobby as well as a job.

A computer engineer once told me the only college grads he hired were those who also did tech — software, robotics, whatever — for fun at home. It meant they were continuing to learn, and didn’t just limit their knowledge to whatever came from the classroom. He said these people knew more about their jobs than those who only did their coursework.

And the question you should avoid. . .

4. Do you have a degree in English, Journalism, or Communication?
These are supposedly the three writing degrees, but having one doesn’t necessarily mean the person can even write. I knew someone who had a journalism degree, but was hands down possibly the worst — and slowest — writer I ever met.

Having a degree does not equal having the ability.

Having one of these degrees could even mean the candidate studied 18th century British literature, specialized in photojournalism, or studied interpersonal communication.

Having a degree does not even equal having the knowledge.

Meanwhile, I have a B.S. in Philosophy and an M.A. in Higher Education, but I have a writing career many trained writers would envy. Yet, some marketing agencies won’t give me a second look because I have the wrong degrees. Don’t let your HR department dictate the kinds of people you get to interview.

Writing is a skill that can be mastered without the benefit of training and “proper” education. Plenty of famous and outstanding writers learned how to write without having a degree in the Big Three. They did it by reading a lot, writing as often as they could for as many publications as possible, and overcoming the struggle of whether to call themselves a writer.

If your marketing agency — a place that most likely prides itself on creativity and thinking outside the box — is looking for a new writer, ask these three questions (and skip the 4th) and you’ll find the best writer for the job.

Tax Deductions You May Miss as a Freelancer or Entrepreneur

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, and you’re only using the 1040 form to do your taxes, you’re doing it all wrong.

You’re missing out on some very valuable deductions and expenses you could take, and if you’re not using a professional, you’re leaving money on the table. If you find you owe taxes each year, you’re definitely not doing it right.

My advice: find a tax professional you can trust and talk to them about using a Schedule C with your 1040.

Income Tax Monopoly SquareThe general rule of thumb is, if an activity costs you money to do the thing you make money at, you can deduct it. For example, I make a few bucks as a travel writer for the state of Indiana. This means I can deduct any expenses related to my travel-writing trips, such as mileage and hotels. A writer friend makes money from, and is taxed for, his book sales. This means he can take deductions for any readings and book signings he drives to, especially if they’re overnighters.

You’re going to be taxed on your income already, so you might as well reduce the amount the government takes by declaring each and every expense related to it.

Here are four important deductions you may be missing as a freelancer, independent professional, entrepreneur, or small business owner.

1. Mileage Related to Work

If you drive to client meetings, conferences, or other work-related events, you can deduct the mileage. However, this doesn’t include mileage driving to and from your regular work; you can only count special trips. Keep track of all your meetings in a calendar, and then list all the meetings and mileage in a spreadsheet. Turn all that in to your accountant and they can take care of the rest.

Erik, how exactly do you think I do this? —Cary, your accountant

Cary, I don’t know. Voodoo or physics or something? I’m a writer, I don’t pay attention to this stuff. This is why I depend on you. —Erik

I use Google Calendar and Google Drive, and I use Zapier to export all my appointments to a Google Drive spreadsheet. From there, I can clean it up, delete all personal/non-paying appointments, and then pop in the mileage for each appointment. This saves me roughly three hours from trying to do it all by hand.

Note: You can also take the mileage out of the company as non-taxable expenses. But once you do that, you can’t take it as a deduction on your personal return because it will be deducted on the business return. If you drive 400 miles to and from a conference, that’s roughly $200 in expenses. You can take the $200 in cash, or you can deduct it on your taxes. Ask your accountant which would work better in your favor. And if you pay for your gas with the company card, you can’t deduct your mileage either.

2. Cable and Mobile Phone

If you work from home, and you rely on the Internet to do your work (and who doesn’t?), you can deduct your cable/Internet costs. The same is true for your mobile phone. If you have a mobile number for clients to call, that’s another business-related expense, which means you can declare it. And if you keep a work-only landline, that’s also tax deductible.

(However, you can also keep your phone costs down if you use Skype as your primary means of communication. This also lets you keep a personal-only phone, and not have to worry about that second phone, or trying to total up the number of work minutes versus personal minutes.)

Remember, you’re not allowed to deduct costs if you’re reimbursed for them in any way. For example, if you work as a remote employee, and your employer pays your cable bill, you can’t turn around and declare it yourself.

3. Office Space

I found a low-cost office to rent, and it’s something I recommend, if it’s available where you live. In Indianapolis, we also have the Speakeasy, which is a shared co-working space. Other cities like Fort Wayne and Evansville also have co-working spaces. If you pay a membership fee or rent to be able to use that facility, that’s considered a deductible business expense. (Working every day from a coffee shop is not considered a business expense, however.)

If you work from home, it is possible to declare your home workspace on your taxes, but it can be rather tricky. There are formulas, and if you use part of a room to work, you need to measure the workspace, and there’s a formula to apply and more of that voodoo physics stuff Cary knows about.

It’s a bit easier if you dedicate one room, like a basement office, to your workspace. But if it’s the desk in a corner of the family room, that’s a bit more problematic. Talk to your accountant, but be prepared to justify it to the IRS, because this often raises flags with them.

4. Food and Entertainment

This is a tricky one. It’s not like the old days when you worked for a company, and you could expense big fancy meals with important clients. Deducting food costs on your taxes can be a problem if you’re not careful.

For one thing, says Cary, you shouldn’t buy food for “working lunches” on the company account. (My wife says the same thing, so this may not be a tax rule so much as a Toni-and-Cary-are-conspiring-against-me ploy.)

One reason is that you can’t deduct the whole meal, only your half. You can’t just take people out to lunch and deduct the entire meal on your taxes. It can also raise red flags at the IRS if they see a lot of entertainment expense deductions on your taxes. So keep this kind of spending to a minimum, lest you feel the cold, probing fingers of an audit.

The problem with doing your taxes yourself is that you may not know the latest rules about deductions and expenses. Basically, if you find that you owe money when you file your taxes, you need to speak with a professional. While you’ll have to pay the accountant, if you’re making a full-time living as a freelancer or entrepreneur, you could find your tax return is much bigger than what you could get doing it on your own.

Special thanks to my own accountant, Cary Hudson of Ashworth Accounting Services for helping with this blog post (and my business!). Cary is a CPA who lives and works in Carmel, IN. He specializes in working with small businesses for their tax and bookkeeping needs, and he’s saved me from hours of headaches for the last six years.

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Code of the Ghostwriter

Being a ghostwriter means following an unwritten code of ethics and practices.

(Or at least, we wrote it down, but like most ghost articles, no one knows who did it, so we can’t find it.)

Ghostwriters need a code of ethics and practices they live by. A short list of things we’ll do and not do in service of our clients. Based on my own work as a ghostwriter, as well as talking to other ghosts, these are the four main tenets of our profession.

1. Ghosts are heard, but never seen.

GhostwriterYou may read our work, but you’ll never know it was us. The ghost writer is there to attach the words to someone else’s stories. The sports star who spins a good yarn, but can’t write a grammatical sentence to save his life. The politician who’s too busy to spend six or eight hours a day writing down her life. The CEO who spends 14 hours a day running a global company, but doesn’t have time to send emails, let alone write a 200 page book.

So the ghostwriters do it. We don’t talk about it, we don’t get credit, we don’t get mentioned at awards time. Sure, we might get a small mention in the foreword, but it’s pretty rare for people to know who the ghost is. Some won’t even admit it, like whoever wrote Snooki Polizzi’s books.

2. Ghost writers should charge a fair price.

The price you charge needs to be fair to other writers as well as your clients. If you undercut your prices, and do the work for 20% less than your competition charges, you’re not only hurting yourself by leaving money on the table, you’re hurting the entire industry.

And what if the tables are turned. Some hack charges 20% less than the going rate, and your new client now expects the same price? Not only do you have to match it, but you may even have to beat it. Imagine going from $75 for an article to $60 to $50, all because you were too timid and your self-esteem wouldn’t let you charge enough to actually make it worth your while.

3. We’ll never reveal our clients without their permission.

Clients hire us because we agree to be heard, but never seen. They are paying, not only for our writing talent, but for the expectation of silence. That means we have a standing order to never tell anyone who we work for, because it means exposing a secret the client didn’t want to share.

If you want to be able to tell people who you work for, you need permission from your client to share that information. Otherwise, just don’t tell anyone.

4. There are some professions that should never use ghostwriters.

Academics, journalists, researchers, and students.

These people should never hire ghostwriters, and ghostwriters should turn down the work, because it could damage your own reputation. Using a ghostwriter in these situations is unethical, because these are the professions who are expected to do the work themselves. Using ghostwriters constitutes plagiarism, and these are the professions where plagiarism is a huge deal.

Ghostwriting is a profession for people who don’t have big egos that need to be stroked or warmed in the spotlight of recognition. But while a good ghostwriter may be quiet and unnoticed, they have the skills and experience to get the job done when no one else can do it.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons)

An Open Letter To Young Writers Applying For Writing Jobs

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that young writers’ cover letters sound sterile and devoid of any emotion, hag-ridden with mediocrity, boredom, and apathy. If this is what you’re trying to show your potential employer, then I think you’re not going to work for anyone.

With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson (more on that in a minute), if you’re a young writer looking for writing jobs, you can’t write a regular cover letter to get an employer interested in you. (Ditto for experienced writers. You just ought to know better by now.).

You can’t follow the same formula your career services advisor gave you, or the advice you’ve read in other career articles. (See LifeHacker’s article on how not to write a bad cover letter.)

Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Bookfair International, 1988Your cover letter has to kick ass. It has to be moving. It has to be so amazing that the hiring manager leaps out of her chair, clutching your letter in her hand, shouting, “Eureka! I’ve found him!”

Think about it: the one thing you’re good at, the one thing you’ve trained for and worked toward over the last several years, and you already show you suck at it with your cover letter. How much confidence is that going to instill in anyone? As a writer, it’s your responsibility — nay, your duty — to knock this thing out of the park.

You can’t open with, “To Whom It May Concern: I am interested in applying for the junior copywriting position I saw on your website.” Of course you are. Why else would you write a letter with your résumé and press clippings?

Do what you learned in journalism or creative writing and make your opening lead as dramatic and attention grabbing as you can.

Try, as Hemingway once said, writing drunk, and editing sober. Be bold, be daring, be a little crazy. Inkslingers are not known for being completely stable, especially when showing off for other writers. And you’re sending your best work to other writers who will silently, but instantly, judge you for the quality of your cover letter. So show off.

A letter that a young Hunter S. Thompson wrote to the publisher of the Vancouver Sun asking for a job is still making the Internet rounds with people reveling in its audacity, wondering if they could pull something like that off.

Of course, at age 21 Thompson was, as the Gawker called, an arrogant little shit. But maybe there’s something to it.

You may not want to go insulting your potential new employer by calling his people dullards, bums, and hacks, at least not if you want to make friends there. But there’s something to be said for letting your voice shine through.

TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN

October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City

Sir,

I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.

Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand. And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers.

If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson

Not surprisingly, Thompson didn’t get the job, but don’t let that stop you. You don’t have to be as over the top as Thompson was 45 years ago (and especially don’t be as over the top as he was 10 years ago), but try to incorporate some of his boldness in your next cover letter.

After all, the stuff you’ve been sending hasn’t been doing you any good, so what do you have to lose?

Photo credit: Wikipedia.org

Grammar Bullies, Write or Shut Up

I saw a video based on an essay by Stephen Fry about how he loathes language pedants (that’s fancy British talk for Grammar Bullies), and it’s got me rethinking how I approach my own love of language and punctuation pet peeves.

First, let me say I’m not a fan of a 6:30 minute kinetic typography video (see it below); I’d rather just read the original, or hear the audio, not read at someone else’s out-loud pace. But that’s just me. Other than that, this was brilliant.
Mean Teacher

For me, it is a cause of some upset that more Anglophones don’t enjoy language. Music is enjoyable it seems, so are dance and other, athletic forms of movement. People seem to be able to find sensual and sensuous pleasure in almost anything but words these days. Words, it seems belong to other people, anyone who expresses themselves with originality, delight and verbal freshness is more likely to be mocked, distrusted or disliked than welcomed. The free and happy use of words appears to be considered elitist or pretentious.

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There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love-letters, novels and stories it seems. They whip out their Sharpies and take away and add apostrophes from public signs, shake their heads at prepositions which end sentences and mutter at split infinitives and misspellings, but do they bubble and froth and slobber and cream with joy at language? Do they ever let the tripping of the tips of their tongues against the tops of their teeth transport them to giddy euphoric bliss? Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to? Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well sod them to Hades. They think they’re guardians of language. They’re no more guardians of language than the Kennel Club is the guardian of dogkind.

Don’t Mind Your Language by Stephen Fry

I’ve always been a stickler about language, but I try not to make an ass of myself about it. I make sure I use it correctly, but I don’t want to be a Grammar Bully. I don’t correct people out loud, although I’ve been known to mark up a sign or two. And I’ve, on occasion, sent my friend Doug Karr a private DM when he’s misspelled a word in a blog post.

My bigger crusade has been spent fighting the Grammar Bullies, those self-appointed vigilantes who snipe and gripe about every preposition-ending sentence, every split infinitive, and every other misguided grammar myth that they insist on perpetrating because they stopped learning about grammar after the 5th grade.

(Had they continued, they would know those myths have long been debunked, and that you can boldly split infinitives and end sentences with any prepositions you come up with.)

My Challenge to Grammar Bullies

So I’m changing my own personal rules about language usage. I’m not going to pick nits off other people’s language, unless they pick on someone else first. I’m not going to correct someone’s mistakes, unless they just need a guiding hand to send them in the right direction, rather than a bully’s smackdown.

To the Grammar Bullies, those people who still vomit out their 5th grade English rules like yesterdays’ lunch, you need to put up or shut up. Most of those rules are outdated or were incorrect in the first place.

If you’re a Grammar Bully who doesn’t actually do any real writing yourself, you’re a coward. An assassin who does his work with poisons, so he can be safely out of harm’s way, rather than the warrior, who wades into battle and earns his glory. You’re the theater critic who can’t act, the sports analyst who never played.

I think the new standard for Grammar Sticklers (that’s fancy American talk for “you’re being an A-hole”) should be that you need to be a Writer. You can’t just complain about grammar and language. You need to produce your own grammar and language for everyone to see.

Write, as Fry said, “poems, love-letters, novels and stories.” Put them out there for the whole world to see. Let the other people who are “too farting busy sneering and guarding the language” get a gander at your work.

But if you can’t produce, if you don’t have any skin in the game, then your “corrections” are hollow and pedantic (that’s fancy talk for “this is why no one likes you”), and should be ignored.

You’re not allowed to gripe. You’re not allowed to point out errors in other people’s writing. You may not complain about these things, because you haven’t earned the right. You haven’t done the work. You haven’t slung the ink. You haven’t sat down at a typewriter, opened a vein, and bled.

Because until you do, you don’t know the annoyance of a pesky piss-ant biting at your ankles, complaining about things they know nothing about.

So, you self-appointed grammar thugs and bullies, put your Sharpies down, pick up your notebooks and laptops, and let’s see what you can do. Until then, keep your pens and your pedantic rules in your pockets, and let the real writers get back to work.

(As for the rest of you: seriously, stop putting apostrophes in words to pluralize them. “DVD’s” and “car’s” is incorrect.)